An Offer I Didn’t Refuse

     For a tourist, one day in Las Vegas is pretty much like another. Win some, lose some, make the most of the lousy free drinks and stay close to the Strip. The locals swim in more perilous waters.
     A transplanted New Yorker, I was coming up on the eighth anniversary of my move here. I had learned that plumbers, landscapers and taxi drivers will take you for all you have. Keep a tight watch on people here or they will turn molehills into mountains faster than a showroom magician. Still, I was not prepared for my first patient visit that Tuesday.
     I make my living as a physician assistant, doing about 80 percent of what doctors do, for much less pay. I had come onboard at a small medical practice where the clientele was younger and tougher than the old geezers I took care of before jumping off the cardiology ship.
     My new physician-employer had quite a few “exotic dancers” and mobbed-up guys as regulars in his clinic. The tall, provocatively dressed 32-year-old woman sitting on the exam table was one of the more spectacular-looking dancers, and she was back too soon, demanding stronger pain meds than the college athletes we saw. And the jocks play brutal contact sports; they don’t dance around poles.
     What worried me was her boyfriend, a thickly muscled guy who paced back and forth in the small room, dressing down some customer service department. About her age, he gave off an air of authority like a crime movie. Mr. Listen Up was working his way toward a refund and growing more agitated. I tried to keep a low profile as I examined and interviewed his girlfriend.
     Listen Up ended his call just as I told the dancer she had gone through her meds too fast. But I caved in and gave her a script for another month’s supply. I breathed a silent sigh of relief, thinking we were done.
     Mr. Listen Up was now seated eight feet from me, on a row of seats.
     “Can I ask you a question?” he asked and motioned me closer.
     I expected an offer I couldn’t refuse. Maybe he wanted a business partner to supply Oxycontin. I prepared for the worst. How to turn down the “offer” gracefully but firmly?
     He opened a leather-bound journal and said he wanted my opinion on something. I nodded, and he began to read a poem he’d written. He read it well, his voice quiet and expressive.
     I remember only a few lines but it was a damn good poem, introspective and full of food for thought. (“I can’t fill a stage, but no room is big enough to hold me,” etc.)
     When he came to the final word, he looked to me to choose the best rhyme. That was the “opinion” he wanted. I offered a suggestion. He liked it. I encouraged him to write more poems and look for a literary agent. I meant it, too.
     His swollen left calf caught my eye. I asked if he’d injured it. He said, “I’ve been kickin’ some dummies lately.”
     I pictured him kicking a heavy bag or some kind of kick-boxing equipment. But the dancer explained that these were human dummies, at the strip club where the poet was a bouncer. I felt he had talent that was wasted on a job like that.
     Once you get off the Strip, Vegas gets more interesting.

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